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Living in a 2 Timothy 3:5 World (and Thoughts on Thomas Boston)

June 17, 2020 6 comments

The last few months have been quite interesting, a time for serious consideration as to what God is doing in this world and in His church.  First came the pandemic, a judgment on the world and also on the church specifically, as churches were closed (and went to online services) for public health consideration.  Even now, though some churches have begun meeting again (with varying levels of social distancing or non-social distancing), many of us are still working from home, and continuing at home on Sunday morning, watching online services.

Among all the noise, ignorance, and politics, I have found especially helpful several articles such as these from Joseph Pipa and others at GPTS, addressing the issue of attending public worship, and God’s judgment on the church:

Corporately, God is refining His church. As Christians, we have repeatedly and rebelliously profaned God’s Holy Day with work and recreation (which God connects with idolatry, Ezek. 20:13-16); because of the virus, many are prohibited from working or playing every day of the week.
Increasingly, the church has substituted entertainment for holy Worship.  God has closed the doors of our churches. God’s people have grown satisfied with having one service on His day; God has removed all services. We have taken lightly the privileges of corporate worship; we are unable to worship corporately.

More recent events are addressed in this article, Pagan America Dressed in Christianity, which provides a good application (it has happened before at other points in history) of 2 Timothy 3:5: having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power — as seen in the rioters, the President, and the evangelical response.

I recently read Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot: God’s Sovereignty in Afflictions, an excellent, easy to read book (republished in modern English) that addresses so well the issue of trials, suffering, and pride versus humility — a very convicting read.  Along with describing how believers should benefit from their trials, Boston pointed also to the proud, the foolish, and unbelieving response of those who do not learn from the trials of life.  From expositions of passages in the wisdom literature – especially Ecclesiastes, also a few from Proverbs — this book is very helpful in explaining God’s Sovereignty in our afflictions, and that God is the Author of our afflictions.

How evangelicals have generally responded to recent events shows the great immaturity of the professed church, which increasingly looks (at best) like the Corinthian church.  It seems that many have identified their faith with politics, and specifically American Republican politics, and are interested in conspiracy theories, denial of the pandemic, and asserting of “my rights!” and the American constitution.  We still have the form, the outward shell of Christianity — but for many, sadly that is all they have, a form of Christian religion but denying its power.  Another bible verse also comes to mind:  Luke 18:8When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?  This is a time like that of the prophets of Israel, who continually prayed and desired for the peoples’ repentance, and for revival to come.  Yet, like Habakkuk, distressed at the evil of his people–instead of revival, God sends judgment.  But when the majority of the visible Church, the outward expression of Christianity (including the evangelical part and many of its leaders), is only a form without the power, one showing great hypocrisy to the watching world, how can genuine heart revival come?  Instead, though God has been very patient — judgment must come.  Of course we do not rejoice in the judgment, but lament – see this post, A Jeremiad.

A sampling of Boston’s observations, for further thought regarding what we’ve seen recently, both among unbelievers as well as in the visible, evangelical church:

The careless sinner is not concerned with discovering the design of Providence in the crook, so he cannot fall in line with it. Instead, he remains unfruitful in the trial, and all of the pains taken by the great Vinedresser on his behalf are lost.

Despite all of their trouble, they do not look or turn to God.
There they are ever suffering and ever sinning—still in the furnace but their dross is not consumed nor are they purified. And such is the condition of those who now cannot submit under the crook.

This is to be in the company of the proud, getting the lot altered by force to the mind. They are like those who, taking themselves to be injured, fight it out with the enemy, win the victory, and then divide the spoil according to their will.

There is no way they can abide the trial, so God takes them off of it, like reprobate silver that is not able to abide it.

Boston’s outlook is not at all negative, but The Crook in the Lot explores both sides: those who humble themselves under God’s mighty hand, who learn from their afflictions, as well as those who instead continue in pride, showing themselves as among those who divide the spoil with the proud (Proverbs 16:19).  His many exhortations and reminders to believers are of great encouragement, and accurately describe how life actually happens: the various types of trials (including long continuing ones, shorter more intense ones, some due to lex talionis) and the ‘partial lifting up’ that may occur — the removal of some particular difficulties (see this previous post), though a partial lifting, sometimes bringing other problems instead.  The full and final lifting up will not occur in this life, and so we wait patiently for the next life.

will nothing please you but two heavens—one here and another hereafter? God has secured one heaven for the saints, one place where they will get all their will, wishes, and desires. There will be no weight on them there to hold them down. This is in the other world. But must you have it both here and there or you cannot accept it?

Do not expect the lifting up to follow immediately upon your humbling. No, you are not to merely lie under the mighty hand, but lie still, waiting for the due time. Humbling work is a long work; the Israelites had forty years of it in the wilderness.

And whatever accomplishment of the promise happens here, it is not the essence of the promise, but a sample or a pledge. … The unmixed blessing is reserved for the other world, but this world will be a wilderness to the end, and there will be crying intermixed with the most joyful songs.

Online Christian Resources Available During Covid-19

March 26, 2020 Leave a comment

I’m still working full-time, though now from home, and church services are video recordings online.  As with everyone, I’m getting used to the “new normal” routine that we all are experiencing with the Covid-19 pandemic.  One good thing to come out from this is the additional Christian online offerings, free or at discounted prices.  Challies’ blog has a good summary of many covid-19 “specials” for Christians.

I especially like the Ligonier offer: all Ligonier teachings series now free to stream through the Ligonier app (available through the end of June); I’m now listening to a series on Deuteronomy (Robert Godfrey).  Other interesting series that I’ve downloaded in the app, include church history (also from Robert Godfrey) and a 5 part one on Blessing and Praise: Benediction.

A few years ago I started listening to a detailed Deuteronomy sermon series that ended abruptly at the beginning of Deuteronomy 4, for reasons that became apparent in the national news several months later, and I had not since found any (other) Deuteronomy sermon series.  The Ligonier series, from the fall of 2019, is less in-depth but covers the major themes and outline of Deuteronomy: a few chapters at a time, in 21 lessons of about 23 minutes each.

A few points brought out in the early messages:

  • the chiastic structure of Deuteronomy regarding the first and last chapters, then the next set in and next-to-last set at end, and so on to the middle point.
  • Major themes include the importance of leadership, and warnings against idolatry and exhortations to be faithful.

Since churches are now streaming their services, this pandemic crisis also provides the opportunity to watch video services and sermons from many more churches (than previously available).  Many church small-groups are now using Zoom for video-conferencing, including a group I’ve joined that just started a bible study on the book of Ruth.  On that topic (study on Ruth), I highly recommend an 8-part series that Liam Goligher did several years ago at Tenth Presbyterian Church.  Whereas most online studies of Ruth are at most 4 sermons (one for each chapter), this one goes into more detail, including three sermons each for Ruth 1 and Ruth 2.

Finally, here is one (of several) good and timely articles about how to make the most of the Covid-19 crisis:  Ten Ways COVID-19 Can Work for Our Good.